The goal was Kovalchuk’s sixth game-winning goal in his last 12 games and his 22nd of the season. He also scored the game-winning goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and has now tied Washington Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead in game-winning goals with nine.
With the victory, the Devils picked up their 62nd point, which keeps their playoff hopes alive. New Jersey has won 18-of-22 games, including 10 of their last 11, and are in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at 29-31-4. Pittsburgh (37-21-8) sits in fourth place with 82 points.
The Penguins, who were already playing without arguably two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, suffered another costly blow early in the first period. Defenseman Kris Letang was ejected for a game misconduct penalty after fighting with New Jersey center Travis Zajac.
Letang failed to tie down his jersey, which violated an NHL rule and resulted in Pittsburgh losing one of their top defenders.
After a scoreless first period, New Jersey took advantage of Letang’s exit early in the second period. Zajac scored the game’s first goal by weaving through four defensemen and backhanding a bouncing puck over the shoulder of Penguins’ goalie Brent Johnson. Nick Palmeiri and Andy Greene recorded the assists on Zajac’s 10th goal of the year.
However, Pittsburgh responded just two minutes later on a controversial goal by Penguins right winger Tyler Kennedy. Kovalchuk attempted to clear the puck from deep in the Devils’ zone, but the puck ricocheted off the linesman and right to Kennedy’s stick.
Kennedy wristed the puck past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur to tie the game at one apiece. It was Kennedy’s 15th goal of the season.
The Penguins also missed Letang on the penalty kill as the Devils were able to kill off two Pittsburgh power plays to preserve the tie as the game headed to overtime.
The Devils got the break they needed with 2:14 to play in overtime. Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek was called on a hooking penalty, which gave New Jersey a four-on-three advantage.
After patiently waiting for the perfect shot, Brian Rolston fired a puck on net that Johnson paddled away. However, Johnson’s momentum took him all the way across the goal crease. Patrik Elias circled around the net and centered a pass for Kovalchuk, who ripped home the game-winner with just 24.9 seconds remaining.
“It was totally a team effort,” Kovalchuk said. “We missed a couple of good chances, but then Patty [Elias] made that great play.”
Brodeur finished with 25 saves and has now stopped 65 of the 68 shots he’s faced over the last three games.
“We definitely are in a battle for our lives, so we have to approach each game as the biggest game of the year,” Brodeur said.
The Devils, who have adopted the slogan “One game at a time,” will look to continue their postseason push as they play their next six games against the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and Atlanta Thrashers, all of whom are under .500.
“Guys are tightening it up down the stretch,” Devils defenseman Henrik Tallinder said. “You can expect these kinds of games. Any game we can win, we take it.”
The first of these games will be Sunday at 3 p.m. as the Devils travel to Uniondale, N.Y. to take on the Islanders.
Follow me on Twitter @JMMancari.